Pursue What Matters
Episode 142: The Triad of Misery
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you get caught in a vortex of miserable thoughts about yourself, the world and the future? While these thoughts might seem to be a reality, especially after the couple of years we’ve all been through, they certainly don’t have to be. Today, I’m going to help you sidestep that vortex and stay out of the path of misery.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:21
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the pursue what matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work? What is the triad of misery? It sounds so ominous, doesn’t it? Well, it can be when you are trapped in a vortex of your own thoughts, we’ve all been there before, right? A vortex of our own thoughts can be a very scary place, indeed. So today, I’m going to share with you the cognitive triad, and how if we’re not careful, we get caught in that triad of miserable thinking. And I’m going to share some specific ways you can pull yourself from the vortex and get back on solid ground. So the truth is, we should all be paying attention to our thoughts, we shouldn’t take them seriously. But we do need to have awareness about them. So every week with a podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead, I try to do that in one of three ways leading with clarity, which is all about connection to purpose, leading with curiosity, which is all about self awareness and self leadership, and leading and building a community, which is really about those leadership specific skills to help you lead a community. And so today, primarily we’re focusing on helping you to strengthen your confidence to lead through curiosity. So when it comes to cognitions, or thoughts, it’s all about self awareness. Because when we aren’t self aware, when we don’t have curiosity, about what’s going on in our head, we can get really tripped up and it’s not just tripped up for ourselves, we can trip others up as well. And so we’ll really be helping you to cultivate some more curiosity and self awareness. So the first thing that we want to learn right out of the gate, is that your thoughts are not truth. So my recommendation to all this is don’t believe your thoughts. They can really lead you astray. They’re just thoughts, nothing more, nothing less. And so what’s true is that we as humans have adapted a lot. But we have an old brain and a new world. So the world has changed in so many ways. But speaking evolutionarily, right? Our brains are still very, very old, and can be quite primitive. Don’t get me wrong, the brain is amazing. But it is an old brain and a new world. And so what do I mean by that? So I want to give us a metaphor here, when we think about positive stimuli, right? So you’re going through the world, and you come up against some positive stimuli, right? Maybe someone you see someone you love someone or to a party feel like parties, positive stimuli, when it when your brain meets up with positive stimuli, your brain acts like Teflon, right? For those of you remember, the Teflon pans, and positive stimuli, positive stimuli just slides right off of that brain without sticking as opposed to negative stimuli. So our brains are like Velcro, for negative stimuli. And this really comes and serves an evolutionary function. Right. So if you think about back in the day, when we’re out on the savanna, it was very functional and very important for us to be able to queue to negative stimuli, right? If we weren’t queuing very well to negative stimuli, we were going to end up dead we were going to we’re going to be some lions lunch. And so that is how our brain developed. And our brain is an old brain, it has not changed much. And so some of the latest research on this ratio of cueing, negative stimuli versus positive stimuli is anywhere from one to four to one to nine, meaning if you come up against if you have nine, if you have
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:49
if you have nine positive stimuli, and just one negative stimuli, what is your brain going to attach to? Right think about that. Velcro, your brain is going to attach to that one piece of negative negative stimulus versus the nine.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:10
The nine positive stimuli. And so that is kind of crazy, right. And the bottom line of that is that our thoughts usually trend towards negativity. And that has served us well to keep us alive. But it doesn’t always keep us happy. And so we need to pay attention to the idea that our thoughts are not truth, they will lead us astray, they will lead us to fearmongering to future tripping to catastrophizing. And so we want to be really careful about not taking our thoughts too seriously. Okay. And then from CBT. So CBT is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, it is the, is the best, well, best researched treatment approach to depression, anxiety, and several other mental health concerns. So commonly known as CBT, you’ve probably heard about it. But CBT teaches us about the cognitive triad. And that is that our cognitive distortions, right, or our negative beliefs, which I’ll be talking about more next week, so stay tuned, that our cognitive distortions usually come from a triad of distortions about ourselves. So that’s one leg of that stool, or one corner of that triangle distortions about the world. So that’s the second side, and distortions about the future. That’s the third side. And so our negative beliefs are unhelpful, inaccurate, beliefs, thoughts. And perceptions usually come in a triad of distortions about the self, the world and the future. So what does this mean? What it means is that we, all of us are going around believing miserable stories about ourselves, the world and the future. And these cognitive distortions, right? These miserable stories, leads to a lot of suffering, usually in the form of depression, and anxiety. And stay tuned, because in just a few weeks, I’m going to, I’m going to talk about depression and anxiety together, because I think, right, these are very common experiences for many people. And so I hope that that will be a discussion that you can look forward to. So it’s important though, to understand kind of the categories of some of our negative thoughts, so self, the world and the future. And I want to share with you maybe an example, some examples of how this triad of misery shows up. So let’s think about beliefs about yourself, right? If things don’t go right, or you come up against a challenging situation, some of the beliefs you might have about yourself include, I am the problem, I can’t hack life, I lacked the fortitude to do hard things. I’m a wimp. I’m a failure. I’m stupid, I can’t do what I really want to do any of these sound familiar? I mean, I hope not. But if you’re like most of us, these might sound a little bit familiar. And so we start with those beliefs. And then those beliefs about yourself lead to some of the following emotions, right. And these are emotions that are a predictable result of some of those beliefs. They include shame, guilt, incompetence, sadness, hopelessness. So let’s think about that we’ve got the beliefs that lead to the feelings, and that often leads to an action. Right? So what are the actions that we move towards, based on these beliefs and feelings? So some of these actions include giving up on yourself going for hedonic pleasures instead of delayed gratification, right? So give me comfort now give me pleasure now. And we don’t really think about the future, we don’t think about delaying gratification, we can fall into emotionally numbing behaviors, which of course, is not helpful. And so hopefully, you can see there is this cycle that gets going around negative beliefs that build towards negative emotions that build towards some unhelpful or negative actions. And that, right, that can really get a lot of traction for many of us. And so those are some of the beliefs about yourself, that may derail you that may lead to this triad of misery. So let’s talk about some examples of around beliefs about the world right? And this in when we think about the world we can think about relationships as well right your relationship to others. So this job is impossible. My schedule is the problem my partner’s the problem. I don’t have enough support at work or home. Life is just too hard, right? We could add on bunch there about the pandemic, we get out that things about politics, there’s so much that we could add, because right the world, and life, none of us are perfect. And so we can develop all sorts of beliefs about the world. So these beliefs about the world lead to some predictable emotions, including overwhelm, including fear, including worry, especially when we think about the scale of the world, right? Just think, for instance, about the pandemic, there were some things you just did not have any control over, right. And that can lead to a lot of fear, that can lead to a lot of helplessness. And so we think about those beliefs about the world that can lead to some of those emotions. And then they can lead to some specific actions. So what are some of the actions that might show up for us when we’ve got that triad happening? So there can be some mediocrity, right? You just do what you need to do to get by? How, how does that fit for your time during the pandemic, for some people that was absolutely the path through is just do what you need to do to get by? And sometimes not sometimes as because the challenges were such that that’s all you could do. Other times that might be due to just just settling into first gear, not really pushing yourself too much, staying stuck, because what’s the point, or constantly moving to greener pastures, because you see, external circumstances is the problem, not your problematic beliefs, right. And there may be some external circumstances that are problematic. But when we are constantly moving to greener pastures, we’re actually not taking responsibility for ourselves and what might be happening internally, right, maybe we have some of these problematic beliefs that we need to take a look at. There’s an avoidance of uncertainty. You know, when we think about this at work, we can see high turnover, life gets smaller, your world gets smaller. And that happens as a result of avoidance, right, like, everything’s just too overwhelming. And if you’re not careful, you become a passenger in your life, just going through the motions, but not really leading your life. And another way that that can show up is in a lack of decision making, or difficulty making decisions. So though, those are that that’s how some of this storm gets going. When we think about beliefs about the world, leading to specific emotions, and then actions and boy that can put us into a world of hurt. Now, let’s think of some examples related to beliefs about the future. So this is where we’re tracking to the future. And some common negative beliefs include I can’t be successful, my goals are out of reach. Life will always be this hard. What’s the point? Right? So you just shrug your shoulders? What’s the point? And these beliefs about the future can lead to some predictable emotions, including cynicism, frustration, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness, those last two are big ones, and they are markers of depression. So we want to watch that. So we think about those beliefs, leading to some emotions, that can predictably lead to some common actions, including, maybe you ratchet back your hopes and dreams, right? Like, I’m not going to go for that promotion. I’m not, I’m not going to push too hard. Maybe there’s a failure to set goals, right, you’re just spent. And so you don’t, you don’t actually lead your life, there can be excuse making. Over time, there can be learned helplessness, because there is this sense of helplessness. And there can be resistance to taking on challenges and new opportunities. So of course, all of these thoughts, and emotions and actions are pretty miserable. And that’s really what we’re thinking about when we talk about the triad of misery, that we can really get ourselves into a dark place pretty quickly. And so I want you to have awareness about that. So that you can see how your thoughts might be tripping you up, and that you can get smart about it. And you don’t have to fall for the same old lines, right, recognizing that thoughts are just thoughts, they’re nothing more, they’re nothing less. And so when we think about some solutions today, I have four solutions to help you to really challenge this triad of misery because we’re all kind of susceptible to it. And next week with the podcast, I’m going to do a deep dive into cognitive distortions to really help you see some of the most common cognitive distortions and to really help you to challenge those. So you are outsmarting your cognitive distortions. So, before then though I have four solutions for you today to really help you challenge that triad of misery. So the first solution is Take back your power, you’ve got to remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. So these two examples come to us from Act, which is Acceptance and Commitment, therapy, it is an approach similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, not the same, there are some key differences. But I think it’s a very useful imagery, that you can remind yourself that thoughts are not necessarily truth, you don’t need to do anything about them, you can let the thoughts keep going. And there are two, two metaphors that can help with this. The first one is leaves on a stream. So you’re standing at the edge of the stream, there’s a nice little stream flowing by, and there are some leaves on the surface of that stream, think about your thoughts, as leaves on the stream right in the stream being your mind.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:16
And recognizing that you’re just watching the leafs go by you don’t need to get down into the stream and pluck out the leaves, you don’t need to stop the leaves or stop the flow of the stream, you’re just gonna watch those thoughts go on by and you are a curious observer, on the side of the shore. There’s nothing that you need to do about those thoughts. The second metaphor that may be helpful is thinking about your thoughts as items on a conveyor belt right there, we always know that thoughts are just going to keep on rolling through that is how the mind works. But we don’t need to do anything about those thoughts, we can just let those thoughts keep moving on the conveyor belt. So if you have this thought come up of I’m such a failure, you don’t need to do anything about that you don’t need to pick up that thought and pull it in close to you. You don’t need to pick that up and say, Yes, this is who I am, this is the truth of who I am, you do not need to identify at all, with that thought recognizing that there will be negative thoughts coming through because that’s how the human brain operates. So when we think about these two metaphors, we want to keep the idea of just letting the thoughts keep going. You don’t need to do anything about them. The thoughts don’t mean anything about you. They’re just thoughts, nothing more, nothing less. So that’s our first solution is to take back your power, you are a curious observer, on the sidelines of your thoughts, okay. The second solution is create some space. So the best way to create some space in your mind is through mindfulness. It really helps us to create some space between our thoughts. And ourselves. Right now, that might sound a little confusing. But we want to pay attention to the gap between our thoughts and reality, thoughts and truth, you can, you can think about that in a couple of different ways. So this is where we don’t pull thoughts into us, we don’t over identify with them. We want to focus instead on specific behaviors based in reality, not global criticisms of either ourselves or others. And so mindfulness really is designed to help you create space, by observing your thoughts without judgment, okay. And one of the ways that you can engage in mindfulness is through meditation. Meditation is a mindfulness practice in 10 minutes a day, you can start to see benefits. So you’re noticing your thoughts, you’re not trying to stop your thoughts. You’re not trying to control your thoughts. You’re just redirecting to instead of being a thinker, being the observer of thoughts. So I am not the thinker. I am the observer of thoughts, and you create space and distance between yourself and your thoughts. And as you do that, right, as you become an observer to your thoughts, instead of the owner instead of the thinker. You may find that you’re entertained by some of the thoughts that you notice is there you know, are you in the fantasy section? Is there a lot of fantasy going on? Maybe there’s a mystery. Who who did what why did they give me the side eye? What’s going on here? Maybe there’s romance, right? Maybe Maybe you are getting excited about someone you see. Or maybe right maybe the thoughts that you see are horror story, and they’re, they’re negative and there’s that misery that you just don’t want to take in. So we want to be curious about your thoughts, but not wedded to them. You are not your thoughts. So let’s remember that. So that’s our second solution. And now let’s move to our third solution, which is to enlist a devil’s advocate. So with this one, we really, really want to build in some perspective, because when those negative thoughts get going, when that cognitive triad gets going, there’s no perspective, we are caught in the vortex of those negative thoughts, emotions and actions. And if we’re not careful, we’ll really trip ourselves up. And so we want,
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:42
we want you to maybe ask yourself, right, as you have some of these thoughts come up. Is this always true? Can I think of an exception? Right? So maybe one of the thoughts is, I’m never successful. And you could just gently challenge that. You could say, can I think of even one exception? Okay, well, there was the suddenness in this in this. You can think of exceptions. So asking, Is this always true? Can I think of an exception? You can also ask, what’s another way of understanding the situation? You could take the perspective of a friend? So if this happened to my friend, Bob, would I come to the same conclusion I’m coming to now? Chances are you would not. Because when it comes to your friend, Bob, we tend to have a lot more perspective than we do with ourselves, right? Because we over identify with our thoughts. And so we have a hard time separating our self from our thoughts. But when it comes to others, we don’t have that problem. We have perspective. And so phrasing it as if this situation were happening to your friend, can that help you build in some perspective? So you could also ask, what would I tell my friend, if they were in this situation? What advice would I give? Well, I probably wouldn’t tell them to like their hair on fire and panic, I probably bring in an alternative view. You can also ask yourself, Who can I talk to for another perspective? Because, right, maybe you recognize you’re really getting caught, and now triad of misery, and you need perspective, and your brain is not a safe place to be at that moment alone. And so phoning a friend, telling them, I need some perspective here, can I tell you about the situation and get your thoughts, that can be incredibly helpful. And so that’s solution three, enlist a devil’s advocate, you, we want you to be a devil’s advocate, we also want you to phone a friend, that can be helpful. And now the fourth solution to help you is watch your language. So if you pay attention to your language, there are some short signs that show you are probably getting tripped up in the cognitive triad. So some of this language includes all or nothing. Language, never always, I never get things right there, they always let me down. Those are red flags, that you’re you’re getting tripped up, you’re getting caught in that vortex. Another shore sign is should I should do this, I should not do this. So from Albert Ellis, stop shitting on yourself, right. And I’m going to talk more about a couple of these next week, when we talk about cognitive distortions, I’m going to share some of the common ones. Another one to pay attention to when it comes to watching your language is are you making yourself the exception? Are you the exception to the rules, either better than or worse than most, mostly, it’s worse than because we have that negative slap, and then labeling yourself or others. So those are some short signs that you need to watch your language and resist that poll to that language. And then again, stay tuned. Because next week, I’m going to be sharing some of the top cognitive distortions that trip us up. And that you know, so I’ll give you some skills, in addition to these solutions that can really help you to outsmart your cognitive distortions, because we all fall prey to them at different points. And so today, what we really wanted to pay attention to was this triad of misery, right, these negative thoughts about ourselves, the world and the future and how you can start to challenge those and get back to solid ground. And I have four solutions for you take back your power, create some space in Lissa, devil’s advocate, and watch your language. And then of course, stay tuned for next week where I will have more great information for you about these distortions. So you can head over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/142-triadofmisery. So one more time. It’s a long one. One more time. That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/142-triadofmisery. You can find the resources there. I’m also social. I’m on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. I’d love to connect with you there. I have a lot of great content related to the podcast there each week and I’d love to hear from you. What do you want to hear more about? I’d love it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:38
If you would review the podcasts. It helps. It helps me to know how to show up best for you. And it helps others discover the podcast so I hope you will consider that. In the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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